Safety in the Future of Work

By Norman Ford, Vice President of Compliance, Skillsoft

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced leaders to develop new competencies and pivot quickly under immense pressure and stress. Organizations have traditionally been designed to be efficient, but now they must also be agile, consultative, and interconnected across functions, such as IT and finance. This shift enables employers to add more value and requires a massive change in approach, health, safety, and compliance.

With more businesses beginning to reopen and employees returning to work in 2021, employers are heading into uncharted territory. Employers must learn to cope with uncertainty and rapid shifts in nearly every aspect of business. Now more than ever, they need to embrace the necessity of balancing the needs of maintaining continuous business operations while not placing undue stress or hardship on the employees needed to make that happen. But when it is time to fully return to the workplace, many organizations must understand the full implications of their efforts. It is important to understand the unique, long-term effects of the pandemic which can affect culture, employee communications, and trust, organizations should focus on getting people back up to speed.

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The following are essential steps that leaders can take to foster a safe, ethical, and compliant company culture heading into the New Year.

Employee Health and Safety

As the world of work is altered, the workplace must also be reimagined. Each company is unique, and therefore, should take the time to analyze what will work best for its business. This is new territory for many, so each business will need to create new policies, standards, and controls to drive behaviors that help keep everyone safe. And, as a byproduct of their implementation, the policies will instill confidence in employees and customers and help bring them back to the business.

At a high level, businesses need to establish a preparedness and response plan that considers guidance from federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial health agencies. To create this plan, evaluate where, how, and to what sources workers might be exposed and then determine the controls they can put in place to mitigate risk.

Some plans and policies will be newly documented approaches necessary due to the pandemic. These policies can include an exposure and response plan that includes identification and isolation of possible infectious individuals and contact tracing. Policies for reporting and communicating illness are necessary and likely were not in place prior to March – or if they were, likely had not been discussed in the office recently. Other policies will likely be based on, but appropriately updated from, the current policies of the business.

HR leaders have to frequently check and update practices. The pandemic has demonstrated that situations can change very quickly, and being prepared to move fast will always benefit an organization and its people. 

Embrace a Culture Shift

For many years, the status quo dictated that commitment to work is shown through showing up: being in the office long hours, in sickness and in health. This attitude can be dangerous – not just for a healthy company culture – but when it comes to physical health, puts people at risk. At the onset of the pandemic, this organizational structure proved that companies had to quickly learn how to manage a remote work environment.

The future of the workplace is more of a hybrid model. Looking forward, we’ll see an increasing number of digital enterprises moving to a hybrid workforce by design. When reopening, consider a 60-40 split between in-office and at-home workdays. Not only does this reinforce a culture of trust, but it combats the urge that some employees may feel to come into work even when they’re sick. Being cautious in this situation will benefit organizations in the long run.

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Technology Investments

Heading into 2021, employers should further invest in learning solutions. With the new reality of in-office and remote work, technology helps unite employees across organizations.

The pandemic introduced new compliance challenges including cybersecurity compliance of networks and devices used away from the workplace. Privacy concerns will kick into high gear with increased regulatory and legal activity. With an increase in technology investments organizations can support new data collection protocols. Concerns around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) may be further aggravated by social distancing and increased virtual interaction. The best way businesses can communicate with their employees is to train them. It is increasingly important to take the time to run virtual sessions explaining new security protocols, DEI sessions, and health, safety, and compliance training.

Looking Ahead

Each company is unique, so when it comes to reopening, take time to determine what will work best. Being able to pivot quickly during a time when each day is different from the next will help organizations function under increased pressure and be more efficient in times of uncertainty. As the world continues to evolve and embrace a hybrid work environment, continuous learning and adapting is particularly important for organizations as they consider their employees’ health and safety.

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